Optometrists with a special interest in paediatric eye care have an opportunity to attract the parents of 400,000 children in Australia who have long-term eye disorders.
That’s according to Nicole Rivett, author of the third Little Aussie Eyes Report, founder of Kids Eye Gear and a senior research analyst for one of Australia’s largest media companies.
The 2022 report, which surveyed 526 Australian parents of children who wear prescription glasses, contact lenses or patch for a variety of medical reasons, highlighted opportunities to promote early examinations, paediatric eye care and fit-for-purpose frames.
FIRST EXAM CONFUSION
Concerningly, more than one in four Australian parents (27%) surveyed believe there is no recommended age for children to have their first eye test and that testing is only required if problems arise or the child complains. This is in stark contrast to professional recommendations. The Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists promotes a first eye exam at age 12 months – or earlier if there is family history of vision problems, or visible signs of issues. Optometry Australia recommends children should have an eye exam before they start school.
However, more than half of parents believe subsequent eye tests are recommended annually for children, exceeding every two to three years advised by Optometry Australia. Still 12% believe subsequent testing is only necessary if there is a problem or complaint.
Main barriers to face-to-face appointments with both optometrists and ophthalmologists were identified as wait times to secure appointments, the cost of appointments, and wait times at the appointment. Hours of availability was an additional barrier for people booking with an ophthalmologist.
QUALITY OF CARE, SERVICE AND PRODUCT
Of parents surveyed, 89% felt supported and well informed about their child’s eye condition; with those who see an optometrist a little more likely to feel informed and supported than those who see an ophthalmologist.
Following an initial diagnosis, 15% of parents had taken their child for a second opinion, citing a variety of reasons but largely due to being referred on to a different type of eye care professional, poor rapport, not trusting the initial diagnosis, for ‘peace of mind’ in the diagnosis and treatment, wanting to pursue care in the private system, and the child still struggling with vision even after correction.
The majority of parents (40%) believe that large chain store optometry practices offer the same level of expertise and care as independent optometry practices. However, more than one in three weren’t sure that this is the case, and parents that visit specialists were twice as likely to disagree that all practices are the same.
Additionally, 89% were confident that their optometrist correctly prescribed glasses for their child. While the majority (41%) believe quality of children’s eyeglasses is equal across all optometry practices, one in three weren’t sure, and more than one in four disagree. This was particularly the case for parents whose children see ophthalmologists – with one in three agreeing to the statement, just under one in three unsure and more than one in three disagreeing. According to Ms Rivett, this may indicate that children with more complex eye care needs have more complex glasses that require special care and attention.
Barriers to wearing spectacles were cost and the child refusing to wear them, the latter being particularly problematic for children under the age of two. More than one in five parents cited difficulty finding frames that fit their child correctly, presenting opportunities for interested practices to expand their range.
Patching also presented problems for 78% of parents, largely because the child refused to wear them or ripped them off. Cost was an issue for one in four parents, and unfortunately, more than one in nine kids experienced teasing, which impacted their treatment compliance.
IMPACT OF COVID
As can be expected, COVID impacted the eye care of more than one in four (26%) children who see an optometrist and one in three (36%) who see an ophthalmologist, largely due to delayed and cancelled appointments, and the impacts of lockdowns and restrictions that included not feeling safe and not being able to bring children or partners to appointments. Children in regional areas (32%) were harder hit than children in the five capital cities (22%). While around one in ten parents were offered telehealth appointments (13% by ophthalmologists compared with 4% by optometrists), the majority did not see value in this service, much preferring face-to-face appointments, even if that necessitated further delay.
The full report can be downloaded at kidseyegear.com.au/little-aussie-eyes-report.